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home : opinion : perspectives

9/26/2013 4:32:00 PM
The Eucharist, part IV: sacrifice and memory

In our final reflection on the Eucharist, we can explore some questions about the Eucharist as a real and true remembering (or memorial) and as a real and true sacrifice. Hopefully, this series has deepened our understanding and appreciation of the incredible gift that the Eucharist is, and will enhance our celebration of the Mass and the ways we can live the Mass every day.

Memory is a very human and precious faculty. We all have photographs of loved ones and objects that have a special value and memory. We can also recall how our lives are shaped by the living and ongoing memory of various people and events that continue to influence us. Sometimes memories are so vivid and real that it is as though they still happen to us every day.

All of this gives us an important clue to the power of the Eucharist as a memorial or as an act of remembering. In fact, the Eucharist is so powerful a memory and such a gift that it is real: Just as we spoke of the Eucharist as "real presence," we can speak of it as a "real remembering."

When Jesus said, "Do this in memory of me," He meant it - so much so that He is not just remembered, but is present and real in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an abiding, permanent memorial and presence of the Lord, unlike our human memories, which can fade or change with time.

The Eucharist is also a true sacrifice in the sense that it is a memorial or a re-presentation - making present again - of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us. As Jesus tells us, "This is my body, which will be given up for you....This is my blood, which will be poured out for you....Do this in memory of me."

The act of love, Jesus' sacrifice and all that it gives to us, is made real, living and present each time we celebrate Mass together. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday come together in the celebration of the Mass. (Incidentally, this is why we can offer the Mass for particular people or intentions: We are sharing in the fruits of what Jesus did for us, and that is now made real and truly present in the celebration of the Eucharist.)

We are what we celebrate: We are a eucharistic people, the body of Christ. The "holy communion" that we celebrate at the Mass is a communion with the Lord (a "vertical" communion), but it is also a communion with each other (the "horizontal" element).

The Eucharist is indeed the Body of Christ, of our Lord; but it is also about us becoming the body of Christ through a communion with Christ and with each other. The word "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving," so being a eucharistic people is all about a lifestyle and an attitude of constantly giving thanks. So many spiritual writers tell us again and again that this "attitude of gratitude" is at the root of a healthy human and spiritual life.

The Eucharist is also about keeping the memory of our Lord alive here and now - not just in the Eucharist itself, but how we live that Eucharist when we leave Mass: of being Christ to others, or of re-presenting Him as His ambassadors, as St. Paul tells us (2 Cor 5:20).

The Eucharist is an ongoing sacrifice, too. The word "sacrifice" is usually associated with giving up things or even a destruction of something, but the root of the word means "making holy." We are to be made holy, but we are also to be instruments of that holiness to others - and we can do this by being fed and strengthened by the Eucharist. That is why, at Mass, we hear the prayer, "Pray that my sacrifice and yours...."

Finally, as the ritual of the washing of feet on Holy Thursday powerfully reminds us, the Eucharist is also a mandate: a commission or order. The ritual is actually called "the mandatum." It is a commissioning and a sending forth to bring the love of Christ that we have received to others. This is absolutely central and it is something stressed again and again by Pope Francis. Not for nothing is the Eucharist often called "the sacrament of love."

As the dismissal at the end of Mass commands us, let us go forth, glorifying the Lord by our life.

Let's conclude with one more verse from St. Thomas Aquinas' hymn:

"I am not like Thomas; wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he.
This faith each day deeper be my holding of,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love."

(Father Barratt is pastor of St. Ambrose parish in Latham. He holds a doctorate in theology and was a professor at St. John's Seminary in England before coming to the U.S. in 2004. His previous series for The Evangelist on the creed won a national journalism award; read that series and another on coming back to reconciliation under Specials: Religious Education.)

Related Stories:
• The Eucharist, part III: What's 'real presence'?
• The Eucharist, part II: a sacred meal and food
• The Eucharist, part I: Why is it so special?

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